Lake Como is probably Italy’s most renowned lake, but Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), in north-central Italy, is almost three times as large (143 square miles) as Lake Como and is just as beautiful. Both lakes are popular summer resorts, but the Lake Garda region is not as pricey as Lake Como. Moreover, Lake Garda is close to many wine regions, such as Lugana, (directly south of Lake Garda, in Lombardy province), with Veneto and its great city of Verona to the east--including its Soave, Valpolicella, and Bardolino wine regions.
Some of the finest moments I have spent in Italy have been in the resort town of Sirmione wine--on the tip of Lake Garda’s southern peninsula--dining out with a few glasses of Lugana white wine, enjoying the lake and the scenery. Sirmione is also a shopping mecca. A large figure of a glass bull sits in my living room, purchased in one of the town’s glass manufacturing houses. Slightly up the east coast of Lake Garda from Sirmione is the charming village of Bardolino, where you can dine in a restaurant on the lake while enjoying fresh glasses of Bardolino.
Lugana wines are not so well-known in the U.S.; much of their exported wines goes to Germany. It has been only recently that we are seeing more Lugana wines now that the Lugana Wine Consorzio in Italy is actively promoting the wines in the U.S.
Lugana wines are primarily white. Some Chiaretto wines (pale red or dark rosé) are made, but are mainly consumed locally. Lugana exports 70 percent of its annual 15 million bottle production (slightly over one million cases). The Lugana vineyard area is small, taking up only 1482 acres (600 hectares). There the Lugana grape variety, called Turbiana, thrives in the calcareous clay soils of this small region, which basically surrounds the southern coast of Lake Garda, from Peschiera del Garda in the eastern end to Desenzano del Garda in the western end.
For years we have inaccurately called the Lugana grape variety Trebbiano di Lugana. Actually, the Turbiana grape has no relationship to Trebbiano (a.k.a. Ugni Blanc). It is genetically much closer to Marche’s Verdicchio variety and Veneto’s Trebbiano di Soave (the latter apparently also mis-named). And so from now on we will call it what Lugana locals call the variety, Turbiana. All Lugana white wines must contain a minimum of 90 percent Turbiana.
Lugana white wines are fresh (the 2015 vintage has already been released), dry, fruity, with floral and/or spicy aromas. They are medium-bodied, and perfect accompaniments to lake fish, but also fine with chicken entrées. And they are value-priced, between $12 and $20, averaging about $16 a bottle.
At a tasting of 2015 Lugana white wines the other day, sponsored by the Consorzio Tutela Lugana, I was extremely impressed with the Ca’ Maiol Lugana, 100 percent Turbiana. It had so much flavor and character, with good acidity. And yet it sells for just $15! It is difficult to find such a superb wine anywhere else in the world for $15. By the way, Ca’ Maiol also produes a “Prestige” Lugana, which I have not tasted, priced at $25.
Three other Lugana wine producers whose wines I liked were Ca’ dei Frati, Cesari Cento Filari, and Ottella le Creete. All are available in the 2015 vintage, but do not hesitate to buy an older vintage of Lugana if it has been stored well. Lugana wines do age well for several years.
Comparing Lugana to its two closest white wines in Northern Italy, Soave and Verdicchio, I would say that Lugana has a broader, fruitier taste on the palate, not as sharp or as lean as Verdicchio or Soave. With its reputation, Soave tends to be the priciest of the three, but none of these wines are over-priced, for sure.
Lugana wines are worth trying; I have found that the quality level across the board is high, and at its price, it is a great value.
To travel to Lake Garda and the Lugana region, fly to Milan, and rent a car. It’s only 70 miles east of Milan. You will need a car to explore the beautiful Lake Garda region, and I would suggest that you stay in Sirmione. You won’t be sorry you did….